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Acts and Parts of Repentance.
1. He that repents truly, is greatly sorrowful for his past sins; not with a superficial sigh or tear, but a pungent, afflictive sorrow; such a sorrow as hates the sin so much, that the man would choose to die rather than act it any more. This sorrow is called in Scripture, ‘a weeping sorely; a weeping with bitterness of heart; a weeping day and night; a sorrow of heart; a breaking of the spirit; mourning like a dove, and chattering like a swallow;’278278Jer. xiii. 17; Joel, ii. 13; Ezek. xxvii. 31; James, iv. 9. and we may read the degree and manner of it by the lamentations and sad accents of the prophet Jeremy, when he wept for the sins of the nation; by the heart-breaking of David, when he mourned for his murder and adultery; and the bitter weeping of St. Peter, after the shameful denying of his master. The expression of this sorrow differs according to the temper of the body, the sex, the age, and circumstances of action, and the motive of sorrow, and by many accidental tendernesses, or masculine hardnesses; and the repentance is not to be estimated by the tears, but by the grief; and the grief is to be valued not by the sensitive trouble, but by the cordial hatred of the sin, and ready actual dereliction of it, and a resolution and real resisting its consequent temptations. Some people can shed tears for nothing, some for anything; but the proper and true effects of a godly sorrow are, fear of the Divine judgments, apprehension of God’s displeasure, watchings and strivings against sin, patiently enduring the cross of sorrow (which God sends as their punishment) in accusation of ourselves, in perpetually begging pardon, in mean and base opinions of ourselves, and in all the natural productions from these, according to our temper and constitution. For if we be apt to weep in other accidents, it is ill if we weep not also in the sorrows of repentance; not that weeping is of itself a duty, but that the sorrow, if it be as great, will be still expressed in as great a manner.
2. Our sorrow for sins must retain the proportion of our sins, though not the equality. We have no particular measures of sins; we know not which is greater, of sacrilege or superstition, idolatry or covetousness, rebellion or witchcraft; and therefore God ties us not to nice measures of sorrow, but only that we keep the general rules of proportion; that is, that a great sin have a great grief, a smaller crime being to be washed off with a lesser shower.
4. True repentance is a punishing duty, and acts its sorrow; and judges and condemns the sin by voluntarily submitting to such sadnesses as God sends on us, or (to prevent the judgment of God) by judging ourselves, and punishing our bodies and our spirits by such instruments of piety as are troublesome to the body; such as are fasting, watching, long prayers, troublesome postures in our prayers, expensive alms, and all outward acts of humiliation. For he that must judge himself, must condemn himself if he be guilty; and if he be condemned he must be punished; and if he be so judged, it will help to prevent the judgment of the Lord, St. Paul instructing us in this particular.2802801 Cor. xi. 31. But I before intimated that the punishing actions of repentance are only actions of sorrow, and therefore are to make up the proportions of it. For our grief may be so full of trouble as to outweigh all the burdens of fasts and bodily afflictions, and then the other are the less necessary; and when they are used, the benefit of them is to obtain of God a remission or a lessening of such temporal judgments which God hath decreed against the sins, as it was in the case of Ahab; but the sinner is not, by anything of this, reconciled to the eternal favour of God; for, as yet, this is but the introduction to repentance.
5. Every true penitent is obliged to confess his sins, and to humble himself before God for ever. Confession of sins hath a special promise: ‘If we confess our sins;2812811 John, i. 9. he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;’ meaning, that God hath bound himself to forgive us if we duly confess our sins, and do all that for which confession was appointed; that is, be ashamed of them, and own them no more. For confession of our sins to God can signify nothing of itself in its direct nature: he sees us when we act them, and keeps a record of them; and we forget them, unless he reminds us of them by his grace. So ‘that to confess them to God does not punish us, or make us ashames; but confession to him, if it proceeds from shame and sorrow, and is an act of humility and self-condemnation,’ and is a laying open our wounds for cure, then it is a duty God delights in. In all which circumstances, because we may very much be helped if we take in the assistance of a spiritual guide, therefore the church of God, in all ages, hath commended, and, in most ages, enjoined, that we confess our sins, and discover the state and condition of our souls, to such a person whom we or our superiors judge fit to help us in such needs. For so ‘if we confess our sins one to another,’ as St. James advises, we shall obtain the prayers of the holy man whom God and the church have appointed solemnly to pray for us; and when he knows our needs, he can best minister comfort or reproof, oil or caustics; he can more opportunely recommend your particular state to God; he can determine your cases of conscience, and judge better for you than you do for yourself; and the shame of opening such ulcers may restrain your forwardness to contract them; and all these circumstances of advantage will do very much towards the forgiveness. And this course was taken by the new converts in the days of the apostles; ‘For many that believed came and confessed and showed their deeds.282282Acts. xix. 18. And it were well if this duty were practised prudently and innocently in order to public discipline, or private comfort and instruction; but that it be done to God is a duty not directly for itself, but for its adjuncts and the duties that go with it, or before it, or after it: which duties, because they are all to be helped and guided by our pastors and curates of souls, he is careful of his eternal interest, that will not lose the advantage of using a private guide and judge. ‘He that bideth his sins shall not prosper;’ Non dirigetur, saith the vulgar Latin, “he shall want a guide;” but who confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.283283Prov. xxviii. 13. And to this purpose Climacus reports that divers holy persons in that age did use to carry table-books with them, and in them described an account of all their determinate thoughts, purposes, words, and actions, in which they had suffered infirmity; that by communicating the estate of their souls they might be instructed and guided, or corrected or encouraged.
6. True repentance must reduce to act all its holy purposes, and enter into and run through the state of holy living,284284Rom. vi. 3, 4, 7; viii.10; xi.22, 27; xiii. 13, 14. Gal. v. 6, 24; vi. 15. 1 Cor vii. 19. 2 Cor. xiii. 5. Colos. i. 21-23. Heb. xii. 1, 14, 16; x. 16, 22. 1 Pet. i. 15. 2 Pet. i. 3, 9, 10; iii. 11. 1 John i. 6; iii. 8, 9; v. 16. which is contrary to that state of darkness in which in times past we walked.285285Nequam illud verbum, Bene vult, nisi qui bene facit. Trinummus act. ii. scen. iii. 38. For to resolve to do it, and yet not to do it, is to break our resolution and our faith, to mock God, to falsify and evacuate all the preceding acts of repentance, ‘and to make our pardon hopeless and our hope fruitless. He that resolves to live well when a danger is upon him, or a violent fear, or when the appetites of lust are newly satisfied, or newly served, and yet when the temptation comes again, sins again, and then is sorrowful, and resolves once more against it, and yet falls when the temptation returns, is a vain man, but no true penitent, nor in the state of grace; and if he chance to die in one of these good moods is very far from salvation; for if it be necessary that we resolve to live well, it is necessary we should do so. For resolution is an imperfect act, a term of relation, and signifies nothing but in order to the actions; it is as a faculty is to the act, as spring is to the harvest, as eggs are to birds, as a relative to its correspondent, nothing without it. No man therefore can be in the state of grace and actual favour by resolutions and holy purposes; these are but the gate and portal towards pardon; a holy life is the only perfection of repentance, and the firm ground upon which we can cast the anchor of hope in the mercies of God, through Jesus Christ.
7. No man is to reckon his pardon immediately upon his returns from sin to the beginnings of good life, but it is to begin his hopes and degrees of confidence according as sin dies in him, and grace lives; as the habits of sin returns but seldom in smaller instances and without choice, and by surprise without deliberation; and is highly disrelished, and presently dashed against the rock Christ Jesus, by a holy sorrow and renewed care, and more strict watchfulness. For a holy life being the condition of the covenant on our part as we return to God, so God returns to us, and our state returns to the probabilities of pardon.
8. Every man is to work out his salvation with fear and trembling; and after the commission of sins his fears must multiply; because every new sin and every great declining from the ways of God is still a degree of new danger, and hath increased God’s anger, and hath made him more uneasy to grant pardon; and when he does grant it, it is upon harder terms both for doing and suffering; that is, we must do more for pardon, and, it may be, suffer much more. For we must know that God pardons our sins by parts; as our duty increases, and our care is more prudent and active, so God’s anger decreases: and yet, it may be, the last sin you committed made God unalterably resolve to send upon you some sad judgment. Of the particulars in all cases we are uncertain; and therefore we have reason always to mourn for our sins that have so provoked God, and made our condition so full of danger that, it may be, no prayers or tears of duty can alter his sentence concerning some sad judgment upon us. Thus God irrevocably decreed to punish the Israelites for idolatry, although Moses prayed for them, and God forgave them in some degree; that is, so that he would not cut them off from being a people; yet he would not forgive them so, but he would visit that their sin upon them; and he did so.
9. A true penitent must, all the days of his life286286Dandum interstitium paeniteniae—Tacit. pray for pardon, and never thing the work completed till he dies; not by any act of his own, by no act of the church, by no forgiveness by the party injured, by no restitution. These are all instruments of great use and efficacy, and the means by which it is to be done at length; but still the sin lies at the door, ready to return upon us in judgment and damnation, if we return to it in choice or action. And whether God hath forgiven us or no, we know not,287287I peccati et i debiti son sempre piu di quel che si crede. and how far we know not; and all that we have done is not of sufficient worth to obtain pardon: therefore still pray, and still be sorrowful for ever having done it, and for ever watch against it; and then those beginnings of pardon, which are working all the way, will at last be perfected in the day of the Lord.
10. Defer not at all to repent; much less mayst thou put it off to thy death-bed. It is not an easy thing to root out the habits of sin288288Τι ουν προς εστιν ευρισκειυ βονφηα; τυ εναντιονεφοζ—Arrian. which a man’s whole life hath gathered and confirmed. We find work enough to mortify one beloved lust, in our very best advantage of strength and time, and before it is so deeply rooted, as it must needs be supposed to be at the end of a wicked life: and therefore it will prove impossible, when the work is so great and the strength so little, when sin is so strong and grace so weak; for they always keep the same proportion of increase and decrease, and as sin grows grace decays: so that the more need we have of grace, the less at that time we shall have; because the greatness of our sins, which makes the need, hath lessened the grace of God, which should help up, into nothing. To which add this consideration, that on a man’s death-bed the day of repentance is past; for repentance being the renewing of a holy life, a living the life of grace, it is a contradiction to say that a man can live a holy life upon his death-bed, especially if we consider, that for a sinner to live a holy life must first suppose him to have overcome all his evil habits, and then to have made a purchase of the contrary graces, by the labours of great prudence, watchfulness, self-denial and severity.289289Mortem venientem nemo hilaris excipit, nisi qui ad eam se diu composuerat. “Nothing that is excellent can be wrought suddenly.”
11. After the beginnings of thy recovery, be infinitely fearful of a relapse; and therefore, upon the stock of thy sad experience, observe where thy failings were, and by especial arts fortify that faculty, and arm against that temptation. For if all those arguments which God uses to us to preserve our innocence, and thy late danger, and thy fears, and the goodness of God making thee once to escape, and the shame of thy fall, and the sense of thy own weaknesses, will not make thee watchful against a fall, especially knowing how much it costs a man to be restored, it will be infinitely more dangerous if ever thou fallest again; not only for fear God should no more accept thee to pardon, but even thy own hopes will be made more desperate and thy impatience greater, and thy shame turn to impudence, and thy own will be more estranged, violent, and refractory, and thy latter end will be worse than thy beginning. To which add this consideration, that thy sin, which was formerly in a good way of being pardoned, will not only return upon thee with all its own loads, but with the baseness of unthankfulness, and thou wilt be set as far back from heaven as ever; and all thy former labours and fears and watchings and agonies will be reckoned for nothing, but as arguments to upbraid thy folly, who, when thou hadst set one foot in heaven didst pull that back, and carry both to hell.
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